Good Reads // July 2014

ReadingBench

Hello friends and fellow bookworms!  This month I had some really great reads – across different genres too!
My first read was The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan.  The first lines: “1947.  Frances poured the last bitter remains of the coffeepot into her cup.  The small kitchen was covered in paper: layouts, copies of confidential reports, lousy ideas she had scrapped hours ago, and good ones, already published in Look, Vogue, The Saturday Evening Post, Life, and Harper’s Bazaar, to remind her that she had done it before and could do it again..”  Summary from Goodreads: “The bestselling author of Maine returns with an exhilarating novel about Frances Gerety, the real pioneering ad woman who coined the famous slogan “A Diamond is Forever,” and four unique marriages that will test how true—or not—those words might be.  Evelyn has been married to her husband for forty years, but their son’s messy divorce has put them at rare odds; James, a beleaguered paramedic, has spent most of his marriage haunted by his wife’s family’s expectations; Delphine has thrown caution to the wind and left a peaceful French life for an exciting but rocky romance in America; and Kate, partnered with Dan for a decade, has seen every kind of wedding and has vowed never, ever, to have one of her own. As the stories connect to each other and to Frances’s legacy in surprising ways, The Engagements explores the complicated ins and outs of relationships, then, now, and forever.”  My thoughts: I had seen this book on many of my friends’ lists, but after reading the story line wasn’t sure I would have picked up the book on my own.  So when I won a copy via a listed Goodreads giveaway, I was pretty excited to give it a try!  I actually really enjoyed it, and most of its characters.  And even the characters I didn’t like…I liked NOT liking them.  Does that make sense?!  The stories made me think about marriage and engagement as an institution, how it’s changed over time, and how it continues to change.  The book contains five stories from different decades, each approaching marriage and engagement from a different angle.  The stories detail what part, or not, engagement rings play in their lives and how the various relationships developed, and in some cases, ended.  And another piece I found fascinating was the advertising world of the 40s and 50s (ahem….how Ayer basically invented the “four C’s” and the two month salary rule!)  (4/5 Stars)
Published: January 01, 2013 by Vintage Books
Category: Historical Fiction, Contemporary, Relationships
Source: I received this book via Vintage Books through a giveaway on Goodreads!
Next up was The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa.  The first lines: “We called him the Professor.  And he called my son Root, because, he said, the flat top of his head reminded him of the square root sign.”  Summary from Goodreads: “He is a brilliant math Professor with a peculiar problem–ever since a traumatic head injury, he has lived with only eighty minutes of short-term memory.  She is an astute young Housekeeper, with a ten-year-old son, who is hired to care for him.  And every morning, as the Professor and the Housekeeper are introduced to each other anew, a strange and beautiful relationship blossoms between them. Though he cannot hold memories for long (his brain is like a tape that begins to erase itself every eighty minutes), the Professor’s mind is still alive with elegant equations from the past. And the numbers, in all of their articulate order, reveal a sheltering and poetic world to both the Housekeeper and her young son. The Professor is capable of discovering connections between the simplest of quantities–like the Housekeeper’s shoe size–and the universe at large, drawing their lives ever closer and more profoundly together, even as his memory slips away.  The Housekeeper and the Professor is an enchanting story about what it means to live in the present, and about the curious equations that can create a family.”  My thoughts: First things first – this is a gentle novel and an easy read.  No character is named, and the bulk of the story includes only three: the Housekeeper, the Professor, and “Root,” the Housekeeper’s son.  Most of the novel takes place in the Professor’s tiny cottage, which he rarely leaves.  The result is a simple story, the sort you can read in a single day.  And yet, the story is also deep, exploring memory and friendship and family.  I would never have believed that math could be so seamlessly woven into fiction that I hardly questioned its presence there.  The Professor, a great mathematician and a gifted teacher, imparts facts about prime numbers and esoteric formulas to the Housekeeper, Root, and even the reader in such a natural and enthusiastic way that it’s easy to see the beauty in what has always been, for many, a difficult subject. As the Professor instructs and the Housekeeper absorbs, math becomes lovely, even poetic.  Though he does not remember them from day-to-day, the Professor becomes like a grandfather to Root and a friend and teacher to the Housekeeper. Even as the Housekeeper and Root shelter and care for the Professor, the Professor teaches them about numbers and friendship. The story line is rather ordinary, but the characters who live it make it beautiful.. (5/5 Stars)

Published: January 01, 2003 by Shinchosha Publishing Co.
Category: Fiction, Cultural, Mathematics
I got in an audiobook this month as well – The Long Run by Matt Long – that I devoured in 3 days!  The first lines: “As I stood there on that unusually warm November morning, looking all around me, everything seemed to say New York.  I was a row or so back from the starting line of the 2005 New York City Marathon, with the Manhattan skyline, shrouded in a dank, soupy fog, rising off in the distance beyond New York Harbor.  Nearby, my teammates, 150 or so New York City firefighters, were doing their final stretches and giving eachother one last command: Beat the cops, okay, beat the NYPD.”   Summary from Goodreads: “On the morning of December 22, 2005, New York City firefighter Matt Long was cycling to work when he was struck by and sucked under a 20-ton bus making an illegal turn.  The injuries he sustained pushed him within inches of death.  Miraculously, after five months in the hospital and more than 40 operations, Matt was able to start his recovery.  In addition to his physical injuries, Matt found the psychological consequences of the accident nearly as hard to process.  In the 18 months before the accident, he had competed in more than 20 premier athletic events and had qualified for running’s most prestigious race, the Boston Marathon.  After the accident, one doctor told him he’d be lucky if he could even walk without a cane.  The Long Run is the emotional and incredibly honest story of Matt’s determination to fight through fear, despair, loneliness, and intense physical and psychological pain to regain the life he once had. It chronicles Matt’s road to recovery as he teaches himself to walk again and, a mere three years later, to run in the 2008 New York City Marathon.”  My thoughts: This was an incredible story – one that was real and raw.  It shared some pretty intense emotions and very personal experiences with the reader.  One thing I loved was that is was written in a style that is conversational, like you’re listening to a friend tell you a story about someone they know. I couldn’t put it down and every time I did, I couldn’t wait to pick it up again.  I even listened to it during one of my runs!  I’ve read other reviewers who were put off by Matt’s “tone” – calling him “brash” or “arrogant” – but from one athlete to another, I found his thoughts and words open and honest.  Running, completing a marathon, or becoming an Iron Man (whether you run a 15 minute mile or a 6 minute mile) – any of these alone signify great personal accomplishment – and all of these together represent greatness in my mind.  To have all of that removed from you in a split second – and then to spend years trying to walk again, run again, and overcome the mental barriers…no, I did not find it arrogant.  I found it inspiring.  One of my favorite passages, and a great life lesson, comes at the end of the book: “I live with these and other frustrations – they are part of my daily marathon.  But as any marathoner will tell you, part of the sport is realizing that not every  race day is going to end with your best time.  Sometimes you have to accept that the unexpected might trip you up.  You train 16, 20, 30 weeks getting your body into the best shape possible, and then you arrive at the starting line and the rain begins to fall, and never stops.  And your shoes get soggy.  And your body feels raw and your legs just don’t feel like going anymore.  You finish the race and you look at your time and you think, ‘Wow, rough day.’  And then, if you love the sport and all that it offers, you think, ‘When’s the next race?’  (4/5 Stars)
Published: October 12, 2010 by Rodale Books (Audiobook by Random House Audio)
Category: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Running
 books_july
What are you currently reading?? Any recommendations for me??
Jen
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